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Raising Resilient Kids

March 16, 2017

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick of Photosanity shares her thoughts on raising resilient children. If you want to hear more from her on the topic, please join her online parenting workshop on Monday, March 20 at 8:00pm. 


When my first son started to learn to play chess, he was so anxious about losing that he would only play me if I were not allowed to capture any of his pieces. Do you know how hard it is to play chess like this?!!

It was around this time that my husband and I realized that we needed to work with our kids on resilience – that is, on learning to cope with setbacks and failure in order to be able to move on in healthy and productive ways.

So this topic was already on my radar when the results of the election came rolling in, and I was faced with new levels of necessity for resilience myself. While we would love to live in a world where bad things never happen, and everything goes the way we want it to, we know all too well that this is often not the case, and we need to give our kids the tools to handle adversity both big and small.

I recently started reading “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings” by Kenneth Ginsburg.  I’ll admit that I’ve only read the first few chapters, but I’ve already found a lot of inspiration and useful advice.

“Resilience is a mind-set,” says Ginsburg. “Resilient people see challenges as opportunities. They do not seek problems, but they understand that they will ultimately be strengthened from them. Rather than engaging in self-doubt, catastrophic thinking, or victimization (Why me?), they seek solutions.”

In contemporary society, with all the stresses placed on kids and adults alike, resilience is more important than ever. Many of the risky and self-destructive behaviors we are so afraid of our teens engaging in are actually attempts to manage stress. While this does not mean that risky behavior can be avoided altogether, and certainly there are many factors beyond our control (particularly for kids with less privilege), resilience provides for alternate ways for our kids to handle stress. Ginsburg says “We can prepare children to navigate a range of crises by helping them realistic assess the immediacy of a threat, develop strategies to deal with and address problems, and have counterbalancing relaxation tools that help them modify the effects of stress through their lives.”

Here are Ginsberg’s Seven Crucial Cs of Resilience:

  • Competence: the ability to handle situations effectively
  • Confidence: the solid belief in one’s own abilities, rooted in competence
  • Connection: a solid sense of security that produces strong values and prevents destructive alternatives
  • Character: A strong sense of self-worth and confidence
  • Contribution: The realization that the world is a better place because you are in it
  • Coping: The ability to manage stress with a wide repertoire of positive strategies
  • Control: An understanding that you can shift outcomes by choosing positive behavior

This is where play comes into place, particularly in reinforcing competence and confidence.

“Unstructured free play (or downtime in the case of adolescents) not only offers protection against harmful effects of stress, but it also gives children opportunities to discover their own interests and competencies… in fact, play is childhood’s inborn tool to build resilience.” —Kenneth Ginsburg

Much has been written lately about the dangers of over-scheduling our children in today’s pressured world of over-achievement, and about the importance of recess during the school day to allow for movement and downtime that actually improves the ability to learn.

But I hadn’t thought about the direct link between play and resilience.

Looking over the 7 Cs above, it makes sense. Unstructured play, directed by kids, allows them to discover and develop competency and confidence in what they are interested in, and the way in which they are interested in it. It also gives them the opportunity to develop connections with others—whether its friends, siblings, or their parents—build character as they gain competence and confidence, and experience the ways in which they can contribute, cope and control.

This doesn’t mean you should cancel all your child’s enrichment activities. In fact, over the next few weeks, we’re going to talk about some of these activities, whether it’s after-school programming or other extra-curricular activities. But before delving into this topic, we thought we would start with a reminder about the importance of a balance of enrichment activities and play.


Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick is a family photographer turned photography coach for parents. She founded Photosanity to help parents find joy & connection through photographing their kids. Born and brought up in the UK, Alethea lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her two sons, Liam, age 8, and Jack, age 5.

Alethea has taught workshops at the Apple Store, Brooklyn Baby Expo, Brooklyn Babybites (now Mommybites) and online through Photosanity.com and other platforms. She has been interviewed on 1010WINS and featured in The Daily Mail, Cool Mom Picks, Apartment Therapy, Ask Moxie and Mom365.